Ex-Sebring water superintendent sentenced to fine, community service


James Bates, former Sebring water superintendent, was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and a $500 fine this afternoon for sending notifications seven weeks late to Sebring water customers that notified them of high lead levels in their water.

Bates, 62, of Carey Road in Salem, was scheduled to go on trial Monday in Mahoning County Sebring Area Court on three misdemeanor counts of non-compliance with drinking water notification rules.

If convicted, he could have gotten up to four years in prison on each count.

In the agreement worked out with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, however, Bates pleaded no contest to one of the three charges. Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove sentenced Bates to no prison or jail time.

Before sentencing, Ken Egbert, assistant attorney general, told Judge Costgrove Bates' crime did not cause "substantial health risks" for Sebring water customers who were left unaware of the high lead levels.

He said testing done by the Mahoning County Board of Health provided that assurance.

Bates did not speak during the hearing, but his attorney, John Juhasz, said Bates disputes some of the facts prosecutors presented. Juhasz said he agreed that the statements Egbert gave about Bates' actions were "substantially true."

The first two charges against Bates was dismissed in exchange for Bates’ guilty plea on the third charge.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said Bates recklessly failed to send notices after learning in August and September 2015 of high lead levels, which were found in routine water testing done at customers’ homes.

The notifications should have gone out in late September to 20 homeowners and late October for another 10 homes, Ohio Attorney General's office alleged. Those were all customers whose homes were in the test results.

Bates also failed to send out notices to the entire water district in late November, prosecutors said. Bates and others ultimately distributed the notices Jan. 22, 2016. By that time, the Flint, Mich., crisis over lead in its drinking water was a top national story.

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